Digital Tools: From the Archive to Publication

AHA Session 42
Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Beekman Parlor (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Leah Weinryb Grohsgal, independent scholar
Nancy Brown, Purdue University
Rachel Kantrowitz, New York University
Ashley Sanders, Michigan State University
Nora Slonimsky, City University of New York, Graduate Center

Session Abstract

The quickly evolving field of digital humanities has the potential to profoundly change the way we think and work as historians. This roundtable explores the ways in which digital approaches alter and enhance both the process and end product of historical enquiry, as well as the new challenges the digital environment poses. Given the many digital tools currently accessible, Ashley Sanders’ talk will explore the new avenues of historical research now possible, as well as some of the unique complications the digital world presents. Larger collaborative, comparative, and interdisciplinary projects can now be organized and conducted with scholars around the world. Archival catalogues, finding aids, and materials are increasingly available online. However, this presents the unusual problem of abundance, the need for source management and organizational tools, as well the question of copyright and property rights in the online realm. Rachel Kantrowitz poses database management and writing software to organize historical sources and facilitate the writing process as solutions to the abundance dilemma. DevonThink and Scrivener, the two platforms Rachel describes, encourage historians to use metadata to think through their sources in a way that leads seamlessly into the writing process, providing a structure and system for recalling sources and setting up arguments.

Expanding upon the logistical strategies explored by Rachel, Nancy Brown demonstrates how digital image management software can be used to catalogue photos taken of archival sources. She will also delineate how personal keyword cataloguing assists with file management using programs such as Zotero, Scrivener, OneNote and Lightroom. Nora Slonimsky will address the third challenge to digital projects - property rights. Based on her own research into property rights law in the American Early Republic, Nora will discuss how digital history offers new insight into classical subjects like property rights in the Early Republic while also addressing its ramifications for present-day discourses on the relationship between the communications sphere and authorial ownership. Finally, our chair, Leah Weinryb Grohsgal, will consider the issues raised by the panelists from the perspective of grant-making agencies. Further, she will draw from her own experience about how librarians, software engineers, and academics can work together on digital history projects.

With the roundtable format, we hope to engage our audience in a broad discussion about the present state of the digital humanities, as well as solicit solutions other scholars have found to the challenges of working in the digital environment.  In so doing, we seek to contribute to the ongoing conversations on best practices in, and the future of, digital history.

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